New Virgin Atlantic iPhone app helps people with a fear of flying

I suffer from serious anxiety while flying. I’ve tried learning about the mechanics of flight, popping Xanax, I’ve even taken a flight lesson in an effort to cure my fear. Sometimes I can stay calm, but on other flights, for apparently no reason, I’ll suddenly have a panic attack. It’s more than a small problem.

For people like me, Virgin Atlantic has created a new iPhone app based on their Flying without Fear class. According to a press release, their course has a 98% success rate for helping fearful flyers cope. The iPhone app takes elements of the course (which recently helped Whoopi Goldberg manage her fear) and offers a mobile solution for use during the flight. Passengers can watch a video explanation of how planes work, read answers to frequently asked questions, and follow along with deep breathing and relaxation techniques.

There’s also a “fear attack” button for emergencies. The problem with that idea being, of course, that when I truly panic – shaking and hyperventilating – I don’t really have the capacity to hit my fear button and read and process the information. I’m too busy trying not to cry. But perhaps reviewing the information beforehand might help if a moment of panic strikes.

The Flying without Fear course usually costs about $350; the iPhone app is $4.99 in the iTunes store. Even if the app only helps a little, it sounds like a sound investment to me.

Afraid of flying? One man’s cure: flying non-stop for a month

Some fight it with sleeping pills. Others just opt to stay home. But Mark Malkoff is choosing to confront his fear of flying head-on–by flying for a month straight.

Mark started his journey yesterday, traveling from La Guardia to Atlanta to San Francisco back to Atlanta. No rest for the weary; he’ll continually be on a plane for the next month, only getting off to change to a different plane at an airport.

Forget a fear of flying, I can think of a dozen things about living on a plane that would surely scare me more.

Mark’s flying AirTran the whole way. Considering he’s averaging five or six flights per day for a month, it makes you wonder whether he has an AirTran sponsorship. Two reasons: the clearance to stay on a plane when a cleaning crew is doing its thing, and the cost. I mean, their tickets may be cheaper than those of other airlines, but they’re not exactly cheap enough to fly nonstop for a month.

Not a stranger to stunt-pulling, Mark is a comedian/writer/filmmaker who’s already known for living in an Ikea store for a week and consecutively visiting all of the Starbucks in Manhattan (all 171 of ’em). You can follow his journeys through videos and Tweets he’s posting online.


Gadling + BootsnAll – Picks of the Week (5.29.09)

Gather round dear readers, it’s Friday and that means it’s time for our weekly roundup of links from our friends at BootsnAll. Think of it like a travel website “cage match:” hundreds of travel stories go into the ring, only five of the best come out alive. Got it? Then to the winner the spoils! Here’s what we found this week:

  • Calm Those Flying Fears – I have a secret confession. Despite the fact I write for a travel website, I’m quite a nervous flyer. The fact is, I doubt I’m alone in my fear. Thankfully our BootsnAll friend Katie Hammel is here to help, offering up some great tips on How to Control a Fear of Flying. I’m feeling more relieved already. You can too – check out Katie’s tips.
  • South of France Secrets – travelers have long been drawn to France’s beautiful southern regions, flocking by the planeful to hotspots like Cannes and Aix-en-Provence to experience the pastoral landscapes and wonderful climate. If you’ve ever wanted to visit, make sure to read Christine Cantera’s Seven Secrets About the South of France, offering some insider tips for this highly trafficked region.
  • Scenic European Driving – the image of the European railpass traveler, backpack over shoulder and Eurail in hand, has become such a cliche that it’s easy to forget Europe also has an extensive network of highways Have you ever considered renting a car and taking a scenic drive though mountainous valleys and coastal vistas? Christina Dima has the scoop on Nine of Europe’s Best Drives. Take a look before you buy that Eurail.
  • Use the Crisis: Volunteer! – there’s been much made in recent months of the current economic crisis. Many have lost their jobs and others are struggling just to get by. But instead of bemoaning our bad luck, what if we were to consider the crisis as a hidden opportunity to try something new? Alix Farr has Five Reasons why right now is the perfect opportunity to switch things up and volunteer abroad. Not only can it be personally rewarding, travel can offer surprising cost savings.
  • Amazing Iguazu – along the northern border of Argentina with its neighbor Brazil is one of the world’s great natural wonders, Iguazu Falls. Consisting of a system of over 200 different waterfalls, some rising over 200 feet in height, it’s a must see for any South American traveler. Keivin Lim recently put together a photo tour of the famous falls. Even if you can’t make it to South America any time soon, take a visit with your eyes through his great photo roundup.

This marks the end of yet another week of Gadling + BootsnAll Picks of the Week. Hungry for more travel picks? Check back next Friday for another round of links.

Plane Answers: Fear of flying, aging aircraft and more on those ‘dings.’

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Brian asks:

I would like to know if I have the option of knowing what kind of plane I’m in and how old it is at the time of making my reservation?

Specific airplanes are usually chosen the night before a trip, so it’s impossible to know the age of your jet when you’re making your reservations. You can look up the average fleet age for each airline though.

I’m more concerned with the experience level of a cockpit crew than the age of the aircraft, but neither of these factors are published before your flight. Sometimes you just have to trust that the maintenance program and training at a given airline are adequate.

U.S. carriers are setting new safety records each year in what may end up being the safest decade of flying in the U.S. yet. and more specifically for the past six years, a period with very few new airplanes ordered.

David asks:

I travel often internationally on various airlines and I’ve noticed that on some carriers, there’s a ping or ding at intervals during the climb and sometimes also during the descent. I’d wondered whether it is the pilot’s way of notifying the cabin crew of the altitude cleared or that it is safe for them to move around––or is it something automatic to an aircraft engine system. I’m curious because sometimes the seatbelt sign is still on but you see flight attendants moving around; this is especially true on United long-hauls.
Each carrier is slightly different, but as I touched on in a previous post, these ‘dings’ are usually done during the climb and descent through 10,000 feet. This lets the flight attendants know that the sterile period, has ended.

The cockpit is considered ‘sterile’ below 10,000 feet, and unnecessary communications between the cockpit and the flight attendants or even between the pilots is discouraged.

Flight attendants are free to decide when it’s safe for them to begin their service. If we know of the potential for some significant turbulence ahead, the captain will advise the flight attendants that they should remain seated until we’re through that particular area.

Ashley asks:

I would just like to know if there is anything you could recommend to someone deathly afraid of flying. I’m going to Puerto Rico next month and I don’t do so well on planes. I hyper-ventilate on take-off and all throughout I constantly worry the plane will crash. Any advice would be great!

This is by far the most frequent question I’ve received on Plane Answers. I struggle with it every time, because while I can understand how scary air travel must seem to many passengers, I can’t get past the sheer statistics involved.

At my airline, we have over 2,500 departures every day. There are more than 10,000 departures in the U.S. daily. Airlines are reluctant to mention safety records, but there have been no fatalities in the past two years for domestic U.S. carriers.

A quick comparison to the more than 40,000 fatalities every year in automobiles might make you consider chartering a helicopter to get to the airport for your next trip.

I think much of the fear associated with flying comes from not being in control. If passengers could at least see out the front window while flying, I know they’d feel much more secure. Imagine how nerve racking it would be to sit in a taxicab with only a one square foot window to see out the side.

So when this question comes up, these numbers go through my mind. But I realize that all the statistics in the world won’t eliminate anxiety. So there are a couple of companies such as SOAR and the free service at that specialize in helping people overcome their fear of flying. I’ve mentioned these two in the past, although I don’t have any experience or feedback from any of the people who’ve participated in their courses. Anyone else out there who has some experience with fear of flying courses, let me know in the comments below what has helped you.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Monday’s Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.

What strange things have been found on planes?

Plane Answers: More takeoff and landing fears

A number of questions came in this week relating to takeoffs and landings, and a few issues that passengers worry about. So, we’ll continue on last week’s Takeoff and Landing theme.

Eric asks this timely question:

I would like to know what purpose the wing flaps play in take off and in landing?

With the recent Spanair accident in Madrid, some reporters focused on whether or not the MD-80’s flaps and slats were extended for takeoff.

These devices, moveable panels on the back and front of the wings respectively, are used only for takeoff and landing.

A jet’s wing is designed to be at it’s most efficient while at altitude and at it’s design cruise speed. This same wing isn’t capable of flying slow enough to takeoff or land on a conventional runway.

So flaps were designed for most airplanes to increase the lift a wing can carry at these slower speeds. When the flaps are extended, the wing is essentially converted from a high-speed wing to a slow-speed wing, depending on the flap setting used.

Flaps are gradually extended based on the speed of the airplane, with the first set of flaps on an airliner usually extended when the airplane is slower than 250 knots.

For takeoff, the optimum flap setting is based mostly on the runway length. Using just the right flap setting improves efficiency and performance once the airplane is in the air. Airlines have a system for calculating that flap setting either manually in the cockpit, or through a computer print out sent via ACARS.

On the MD-80, the leading edge slats are extended and the trailing edge flaps are ‘dialed in’ to the required setting.

Taking off without any flaps extended isn’t possible for most airliners without an exceedingly long runway, maximum power set and some very careful handling by the pilot. This is why there are multiple checks prior to take off to ensure the flaps are properly set.

There’s also a loud warning horn that sounds if the throttles are advanced with the flaps not in the proper configuration for take off. Checklists, however, will likely prevent the need for the horn.

The last accident where flaps weren’t set for takeoff was a Northwest flight 255 departing from Detroit in 1987, and this might be why there has been some initial focus on the flaps as a possible cause behind last week’s Spanair crash.

It’ll be interesting to hear what happened to the Spanair flight, so we can learn from the accident. The media is rarely held accountable for the mistakes made when speculating as to a reason for an accident.

I wouldn’t hesitate to fly on an MD-80. In fact, it’s listed as the second safest airplane flying.

Dave brings up a takeoff related question:

I’m curious, if you have a severe engine problem after liftoff that you can’t recover from or go around, what is the procedure for finding a place to put down. I understand if there is a nice plowed field ahead that’s great, but what if you are in a congested area?

All airliners are required to demonstrate that they can safely operate after an engine failure at liftoff.

I suppose it’s conceivable that a dual-engine failure could happen (on a twin-engine aircraft), so in that case, the only possibility would be to land straight ahead, doing everything you can to avoid any congested areas.

Finally, Sandra asks a three-part question:

I am what I describe as a nervous flyer… I am curious to know why does the prep for landing alway feels so, well ominous?

Lights dimmed, and unless this is just my imagination…there is just something so dooming…

Some airlines require the lights to be dimmed to improve a flight attendant’s ability to see outside when on the ground. Part of their job is to assess the situation on the ground if an engine fire or other such problem were to occur and an evacuation became necessary.

Interestingly, not all airlines have that procedure.

Also, the last time I flew southwest, on final approach, the wings seemed to be dipping from left to right, right to left.

And then I flew the same airline again, and that landing was so smooth–I actually had to look out of the window to see that we were on the ground.

Ahh, yes. You’ve noticed the differences in pilot technique. Some pilots do get into what we call ‘pilot-induced oscillations,’ which are a bit annoying. You’ve had experiences with a bus driver or cab driver who wasn’t very smooth before, I’m sure. Well, you’ve just found the pilot equivalent of that driver.

What amount is attributable to the skill of the pilot, and how good a pilot is, with respect to landings??

Landings are a bit like golf. (Although I don’t play, I just had to take a swing at that analogy-no pun)

You can really feel like you have the landings perfected in a particular airplane, and then, sure enough, you can’t get a good one for weeks at a time. It’s kind of rare though to have an earth shatteringly hard landing after you’ve been flying a particular airplane for more than 6 months.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for next Friday’s Plane Answers feature.